The 17th annual Motorman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

Searching for Phenomena at the 2018 Mothman Festival

Posted on:

< < Back to

Over 50 years ago something terrifying, mystifying, and tragic struck the town of Point Pleasant, WV.

Starting in 1966 an intense 13 months of strikingly bizarre happenings went on in the town, culminating in the collapse of the Silver Bridge, a disaster that literally touched every single one of the people residing in the small town on the banks of the Ohio River. Much of the strangeness is attributed to sightings of the Mothman, a large, flying humanoid that has been described as both brown and black and with red, glowing eyes.

For the past 17 years, that haunting phenomena has been celebrated with the annual Mothman Festival. Every year the festival attracts about 10,000 people, more than doubling the town’s typical population.

One of the traditions of the annual Mothman Festival are various cryptid-themed fair food snacks. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

If you haven’t been there, it’s difficult to describe. Think part county fair, (fried foods, crying babies, live entertainment, and even festival rides,) part comic book convention (people cosplaying as various superheroes and ghouls,) and part legitimate paranormal research meeting.

Over 50 years after the events, we can celebrate with Mothman cake pops, adorable Mothman leggings, meatball sandwiches playfully sold as ‘mothball sandwiches,’ and all manner of adorable, plush Mothmen, but a half a century ago, none of this was very funny at all. Much like the largest philosophical questions that we are given to riddle out as sentient beings, the legend of the Mothman is striking, terrifying, mystifying, tragic, and, at times, kind of humorous.

It’s worth noting that while the Mothman is typically mostly identified by his bicycle-reflector like eyes, another recurring observation made by those who witnessed the creature was an air of incredibly palpable heartache. Almost as though it was trying to communicate sorrow. One aspect of interaction with the paranormal that is often neglected when the reports are regurgitated by the media is the intense sense of emotion that those who experience such interaction typically report, and it’s an aspect that comes up time and time again throughout the Mothman phenomena.

Cosplay and general costumes are a common theme of the annual Mothman Festival. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

“I think we are all interested in the eternal questions,” said Allison Jornlin, a Milwaukee-based paranormal investigator who was manning a table under one of the vendor tents at the festival. Jornlin is also the host of “See You On the Other Side,” a podcast that is not unlike the often eerie radio program “Coast to Coast AM.” “We wonder, ‘Why are we here?’ ‘What happens after we die?’ ‘Are we alone?’ and these are important questions that we need to take seriously. I think that people who consider themselves skeptics, but who are actually cynics, are limiting human experience and cutting out a very important portion of the sacredness that has been experienced by all cultures throughout all time.”

Jornlin has been making videos and posting them to for the past several years, documenting the recent flying humanoid sightings in Chicago; visiting over 50 sites where sightings have occurred.

“I figured that if I really am a paranormal investigator, I need to put my boots on and walk in the footsteps of these witnesses, to see if there is any voracity to what they are saying,” she said. Sadly, often there is not — Jornlin regularly finds serious factual inaccuracies in witness reports, but that is all a part of her job. “We have to take these things seriously but we have to follow modern day investigation techniques. Don’t believe everything, but do believe that there are extraordinary mysteries out there. We just have to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

The Mothman Museum in Point Pleasant is always very busy during the annual Mothman Festival. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

Every year the Mothman Festival spotlights some of the paranormal researchers that the event attracts with a series of presentations in the Spirit Theater, which has been unoccupied for several decades, opening up every September for the annual Mothman Festival. One of this year’s presenters was Robert C. Robinson, who spoke about the Florida skunk ape, a cryptid that often comes up in the discussion over the voracity of Bigfoot. Robinson is the author of Legend Trippers of America, a volume that details how one really investigate various American legends.

“(My book) is a fully illustrated, detailed guide on how to take your own legend trip,” said Robinson. “It shows you how you can investigate popular areas, and popular legends, such as bigfoot, the mothman, the Jersey devil, places where UFOS have been sighted.”

Kevin Lee Nelson, one of the authors of The Van Meter Visitor: a True and Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown, described the Mothman Festival as a sort of “Lollapalooza of the paranormal.”

A couple makes their way through the 2018 Mothman Festival. (WOUB Public Media/Emily Votaw)

Nelson’s book examines a creature that is not unlike the Mothman. The Van Meter visitor sightings happened in 1903 over the course of five days. The harrowing events culminated with the people of Van Meter, IA chasing the bat-like creature that had been appearing around the town into an abandoned mining shaft.

“It’s a great event, and it’s one of the larger ones in the country,” he said. “Mothman is really at that intersection of so many fields of study. You get the bigfoot people, the UFO people, the ghost people. At this festival in particular you get a lot of firm believers, a lot of skeptics, and some people who just think Mothman is an example of some great folklore.”